Monday, 23 July 2018

More deep purple, counting big butterflies and other lepidopterans too

The Safari took the opportunity to go back to Singleton church, taking CR with us, a couple of days ago. Once again it was a bit of a wait in the hot sun before we got our first glimpse of one of the Purple Hairstreaks. It was several minutes more before one would show well enough to point the cameras at it and even then it led us a merry dance by flying over our heads and landing on the Turkey Oak a few yards away in the new grave yard.
We had a few more glimpses and an occasional photo opportunity 
This one is a different individual to the first one as it still has its tails. Both of them were drinking honeydew from the surface of the leaves. We also saw but weren't able to photograph one female laying eggs quite low down in the canopy so we're pretty confident they'll be there next year.
Our sightings dried up as the butterflies hid at the top of their tree so we left but as we went through the church yard gate a dragonfly caught our eye in the new Peace Garden. It was chaser and kept returning to the dame dried up stalk albeit against the light from where we came through the gate. when it turned its back it revealed itself as a male Broad Bodied Chaser and a battered one coming to the end of its time a that.
After on of its forays we noticed that it was scoffing a fairly large insect but we were unable to identify what it might have been. Quite substantial whatever it was, certainly not a midge or a greenfly.
A pretty good couple of hours out.
This weekend say the launch of the annual Big Butterfly Count, an easy to join in Citizen Science project which helps monitor the state of the country's mid-summer butterfly populations.
We did two 15 minute counts this morning down on Patch 1 across the two fields behind the Rock Gardens. The rougher of the two fields had the better count, 15 Gatekeepers, 3 Small Whites, 4 Speckled Woods, 26 Meadow Browns, 4 Common Blues, a Small Skipper and a Silver Y moth, they're on the recording sheet. Not at all bad for just walking down one and a bit edges of the field. A bit of sun breaking through the heavy cloud might well have brought out a fair few more. We might have expected more skippers but the recent hot weather might have seen them finish their flight season earlier than normal.
The other field has fewer flowers and fewer species of longer grass and is also smaller, as it took less time to get round we did a few minutes in the 'Butterfly Zone' at the side of the park which was quite productive but alas no White Letter Hairstreaks, the hot weather perhaps finishing them off early like the skippers although they are still on the wing in a few localities across the Fylde. And strangely none of the larger, colourful wider-countryside species like Red Admiral, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell or Comma - where were they - - waiting for the sun to come out probably!
If that's what we didn't see what did we see? Well here goes; 9 Meadow Browns, 3 Gatekeepers, no fewer than 5 Small Coppers, 3 Common Blues, 2 Green Veined Whites, a Small White and 2 Silver Y moths. Totaling up that makes 71 individuals, half of which were Meadow Browns, of 9 species - not bad for a dull morning...and better still despite the muggy, humid conditions not a Clegg in sight - we did have our 200% DEET spray to fend off the little horrors but it wasn't needed thankfully.
Common Blue
Common Blue

Green Veined White
Small Copper  - hiding
Not hiding
Feeding
Back at Base camp the moth trap has continued to produce small but varied catches. A lovely Garden Pebble was New for the Garden yesterday, a large 'micro' moth bigger than some 'macro' moths - unfortunately it evaded the lens....grrrr, so here's a link
What hasn't managed to evade the lens is below...
Lesser and/or Common Rustic
Phoenix
Rosy Rustic - another New for the Garden
Shuttle Shaped Dart
Silver Y
Willow Beauty
Micro moths have been very infrequent during the second half of the month so far but we're hoping there'll be some of the little stunners to show you before too long. Just because they're small doesn't make them any less beautiful than their larger 'macro' cousins indeed many off them knock spots off the larger moths when it comes to colour and patterns.

Where to next? We have another trip lined up with CR later in the week and hopefully the moth trap will produce some interest - once we've dried it out after last night's unexpected downpours...will the electrics still work???

In the meantime let us know who's buzzing around the churchyards in your outback



Thursday, 19 July 2018

Purple patch then porpoise pathos

The Safari has finally got round to updating our Header pic after almost a year - how lazy of us!
Solemn family business took us south of the river a couple of days ago. The journey back held two options, a) bunk in at Marshside RSPB reserve for a walk down to Nels Hide or b) keep moving to avoid the dreaded 'schools out' traffic around Preston and drop in at Singleton church. We chose the latter as Monty was asleep in the back of the car and not sitting up looking like he needed a toilet stop as we passed Marshside.
A butterfly hunter was already in the churchyard when we arrived but the usual question, 'seen owt?' was answered in the negative. Not the best news but the Oak tree is large although only 58 years old and the sun was shining more strongly on the far side so we had a wander into the newer half of the graveyard. Good decision - within five minutes of looking at the top of the canopy a dark movement much lower down caught our eye and Bingo we were on to a Lifer butterfly Purple Hairstreak.We called the other watcher over and we both enjoyed pretty good binocular views of at least three of them fluttering around a small gap in the lower canopy. Really difficult to get a pic of at 600mm as it was like looking down a pea-shooter absolutely no field of view to speak of so finding the right group of four or five leaves was tricky and then the mixture of bright light on reflective surfaces and dark shadows played havoc with the metering. But we persevered changing settings every time we were able to get on a butterfly and with the magic of processing managed to get a couple of half decent pics for you in the end.
The butterflies themselves must reflect a huge amount of UV as they were horrendously over-exposed and the pics above took a lot of processing to get any colour detail at all.
There seems to be a little bit of a glut of Purple and White Letter Hairstreaks happening at the mo with small colonies of both turning up in new places every few days. Whether they are genuinely new colonies or just because there's more watchers watching and checking different sites other than the known hotspots is perhaps hard to tell but they could be moving around in response to the hot dry weather we've had for the last few weeks. We've even had what was probably a White Letter Hairstreak tazz through the garden at Base Camp and yesterday a small dark bronzy butterfly caught our attention as it fluttered along the cliffs, difficult to keep track of with the bins but deffo not a skipper, which we don't see along here nor was it a Common Blue which despite the profusion of Birds Foot Trefoil foodplant or a Small Copper which we very seldom see along the cliffs and from the flight jizz we reckon it was one of the hairstreaks unfortunately we lost sight of it when it dropped into some long vegetation we had hoped it would settle to nectar on one of the taller Ragwort flowerheads where we could get a proper look at it.
It was while we were trying to refind the butterfly we spotted someone's dog sniffing at something large on the beach, training our bins that way we saw it was a stranded and deceased Harbour Porpoise so down we went for a closer look.
It hadn't been dead long and maybe live stranded on the previous tide and been washed out and back in again. Both cheeks had been eaten away they seem to be the first bit the scavengers go for but that looks like a lot more damage than the not so many gulls on the beach could cause in a short space of time unless they'd been perched on it while it was at sea but we don't see any poop splashes although they could have washed off we suppose. It was collected and was in good enough condition to be sent for a post-mortem for the UK Strandings Scheme.
Other finds on the beach recently have included an awesome undamaged Cuttlefish 'bone'. now what we'd really like would be to find a live one, they're obviously out there somehere.
Not so good a find was this long strand of Wireweed, an invasive species from the Pacific Ocean; we've seen more since trapped on the chains along the slipways down to the beach - must be a bit of a nightmare at where-ever it comes from.
Back at Base Camp the moth trap has been producing small but varied catches. This one is Agriphila straminella, a common 'micro' moth but one that doesn't visit Base Camp very often.
We've got a few more moth pics but we'll share those with you next time...might be even more by then too.

Where to next? another trip out to look for/at the Purple Hairstreaks and maybe a river wander too, if there's any water to call it a river!

In the meantime let us know who's all washed up in your outback.


Monday, 16 July 2018

Hardly mothtastic at Base Camp but...

The Safari has been enviously reading about triple figure overnight moth catches of dozens of species all over social media these last few weeks but unfortunately our own moth trap has produced meagre returns both in terms of nightly numbers and of species involved. That's not to say that we haven't had some fun and are always eager to peer in to the trap each morning just in case there's something different in there - - preferably not wasps!
Here's a trundle through some of the moths we've caught - mostly those that have stayed still long enough for us to get a pic of as it's normally already very warm by the time we're able to get to open the trap and there's always a few escapees, probably the most exciting and/or most colourful ones ie Brimstone moth - they just won't keep still!
Brimstone from a couple of years back
The following are all from this month and in no particular order
Acleris forsskaleana
Acrobasis advenella - New for the garden
Blastobasis adustella
Celypha striana
Clay
Currant Pug - New for the garden
Dark Arches - a rather pale individual and worn too
Dot moth
Dotted Clay
Heart & Dart - self explanatory some of these names aren't they!
Large Yellow Underwing
Marbled Beauty
Marbled Minor
Mouse moth
Pammene fasciana
Poplar Grey
Poplar Grey doing what they do best, can you spot him?
Red Barred Tortrix - New for the garden
Riband Wave
A couple of Rustics - or are they???
Scalloped Oak
Small Magpie
Uncertain - Yes that's it's name - - see Rustics above
Our thanks for the trickier identifications go to Sean on Twitter at @mothIDUK he must have the patience of a saint as every morning his feed is jam packed with enquiries from novice moth-ers like ourselves. He really is a font of all moth knowledge and if ever there's a Twitter award he should get it. He's what social media was invented for and should be all about - none of that advertising, spam and bot nonsense.
In other news we've missed a few Bottlenose Dolphins along the coast - we just don't seem to be able to connect with them and the other day we were at a rainy (the first rain for weeks!!!!!!! Grrrrr) Leighton Moss with CR when news broke of a Risso's Dolphin off our former regular watch point at a time when had we not retired we'd have been peering over the wall at the sea. We had hoped to go to the private reserve a little further north but the rain meant we needed at least some cover which is lacking there. The Risso's Dolphin was the second record in less than a year after a decade of no sightings and perhaps begs the question is it the same individual returning this summer after last summer and will it come back around the same time next summer? The species is an infrequent visitor to Liverpool Bay preferring the deeper water of the western parts of the Irish Sea and off the peninsulas of the Welsh coast.
Our visit to Leighton Moss was rain affected and we were a little unlucky with our leaving and arrivinf at certain hides - you should have been here five minutes ago the Otter caught a massive fish and later we were told you should have stayed a bit longer there were three Marsh Harriers up together...dohhh some days the gods are against you but there's always something to see.Summer plumaged Black Tailed Godwits are always a joy
We got a much better shot of a Snipe for our Year List Photo Challenge which still stands at 147 as no more new species were added on this visit.
A Water Rail showed well close by at the Causeway but was always obscured by either a close to us or a close to it reed leaf when the camera fired and we got no pics with its face in a proper clear view.
An adult Water Rail with a tiny black chick was out on the mud on the far side of the pool but too far away for a decent pic unfortunately.
Much closer and of real interest was a Carrion Crow which had picked up a live Eel, we assume (and you should never assume anything) that the Eel was swimming close to the surface among the rocks at the water's edge and the crow had grabbed it, there were no other birds nearby that could have caught and then dropped it.
A Cormorant was also fishing for Eels.
While we waited for the Otters, Ospreys and Bitterns not to show we were entertained by a family of Pied Wagtails flitting around feasting on the innumerable flies and a post hopping Black Headed Gull.
We didn't spend long at the saltmarshes as the pools had dried up and there were only a few juvenile Black Headed Gulls loafing a around - don't think we've ever seen it so dry or so quiet down there.
Young Black Headed Gulls are very bonny birds and all slightly different as they go through their moults at slightly different speeds/times
So a slightly disappointing day out on safari after 'enduring' weeks of glorious weather, the camera was racked up to ISO Stupid for the first time in months!
The following morning dawned hot and sunny - Bl**dy typical!!! - so we took Monty out early to the Rock Gardens before the sun got too hot for him and hopefully before the masses of  blood sucking Cleggs were on the wing - no chance, good job we had our 50% DEET with us just in case.
There was no sign of any White Letter Hairstreaks around their favourite tree but we did see a good many other butterflies; probably in excess of 75 Meadow Browns and likewise 25+ Gatekeepers
with a supporting cast of 'loads' of Small and Large Whites, but no Green Veined Whites that others elsewhere in the country are seeing in good numbers, a few skippers all of those we could get on to and ID were Large Skippers,

a Small Copper,
a female Common Blue
We tried to get a pic of the upperside to show it was a female but Monty was being a nightmare and kept poking his nose in to the grass too close to it and it kerpt flying off, and a Speckled Wood.
Where to next? We've got a moth and bat night coming up later in the week and the moth trap will be back on at Base Camp as soon as this welcome rain gives over. 

In the meantime let us know who's fluttering around the lights in your outback